English as a medium of instruction in Pakistan

Time and time again one comes across writers who write in English against English as a medium of instruction (EMI) in Pakistani educational institutions. They argue that their argument is not against teaching English as a language but against its use as a medium of instruction. That, however, does not turn out to be the case as most often advertently or inadvertently they end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Anti-everything-Western demagogues then jump on the band wagon, conveniently over-stepping that blurred line between EMI and English as a language that needs to be taught and learnt in order for our people to go shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world and turn the ‘English writing’ (liberal) intellectuals’ argument against EMI into one for its complete eradication from our education system.

Associating lack of Pakistani students’ conceptual understanding with the use of EMI is a claim many make without any reliable research base. Conceptual understanding or lack of it has much more to do with an entire system of pedagogy, instruction and a whole culture of teaching and learning in our educational institutions rather than just being an outcome of the use of EMI. This is simplistic to connect every dot in our students’ lack of conceptual understanding to the single point of the ‘unfortunate’ use of EMI. Many such writers suggest that English is used by the power grabbers as a tool of attaining power against those who do not have any access to the language. If that is true, one fails to understand how can that be countered by taking English (a language of power) further away from the vast majority of students who go to state run schools? Shouldn’t a more rational course be this: If English is associated with the attainment of power and status; the poor should be given an equal chance to learn this ‘language of power’ instead of doing the opposite?

Writers who are against EMI suggest that because a majority of teachers don’t have the capacity to teach their subjects by using EMI, therefore, it should be shunned as one. Well, what if the majority of teachers don’t have the capacity to teach at all? Should then education as a whole be shunned? Some columnists who are not even educationists try to associate the low-level of educational attainment among students with the use of EMI. That is a flawed logic based on a superficial analysis of the situation.

The reality is, it’s not just the use of one language or another as a medium of instruction that is hampering the conceptual understanding or creativity of students in our ‘educational’ institutions. The matter is not so simple. It’s a whole culture of ignorance about the very concept of EDUCATION. It’s much more than that. It’s an extremely intricate issue, full of complexities and finer lines and the root of low attainment and poor quality education lie in issues deeper than the mere use of EMI.

As far as English is concerned, it is a language of power (I would say the language of opportunity within and beyond Pakistan), ‘a language of today and of tomorrow’, to quote a former vice chancellor of Peshawar University. This is a reality that we need to accept. It is a misunderstanding that it is only Pakistanis who are striving to excel in this language. It’s the whole world. Thousands of students from China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and numerous middle Eastern countries, in fact students and teachers from every nook and corner of the world, are studying in Western universities and their subject of choice usually at the graduate or postgraduate and doctoral level is English teaching and learning. When the whole world is going in one direction, it doesn’t make much sense to go in the opposite. It will be like turning the clock back. We have already turned it back in many other spheres of our life and not one for the better it seems.

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